another semester over

I just wanted to use this space to express my genuine sadness to see this semester come to an end. I’ve been teaching this course for 3 years now (though this is my first time coordinating it), and I have never had such buy-in to the blog before. To have this durable record of such diverse and informed pieces of writing by my students – well, it’s hard to express how gratifying this is. I will consider myself fortunate if I have a group that is even half as engaged as this one was. And by the way, it’s worth noting that a large fraction of my students were 3rd year students. My deepest thanks for making this website so wonderful !

A step in the right direction?

As a member of the Green Party of Canada, I receive occasional updates on my FB page. This morning, it was a shared link to an article about the conversion of a decommissioned coal-fired power plant in Ontario to a solar farm. My initial reaction was “looks like a step in the right direction”. And it may well be one. After all, burning coal is the dirtiest way to generate electricity. But I’m left with two big questions. First, how much electricity will this solar farm generate (as in the percentage of the original capacity of the coal-fired plant)? Here, I’m thinking about land-use. Second, considering that cradle-to-grave analysis of solar energy production reveals some negative environmental impacts, especially related to the production of panels (which uses rare-earth metals and some pretty nasty chemicals) and their eventual disposal, what are the downsides of going this route? I don’t mean to denigrate clean technologies – I am supportive of developing solar, wind and geothermal power generation – but I can’t help thinking that there should be at least as much, if not more, emphasis placed on reduction of demand as there is on implementation of alternative sources of energy. Why doesn’t the Green Party and, for that matter, the Government of Canada (well, why not all governments?) really starting pushing urban populations to reduce consumption?

Peregrine on campus ?

For the past couple of weeks, from my 19th floor apartment, across Clementi Road from NUS, I’ve been seeing one (or perhaps more) peregrine falcon(s). Last Friday, it was soaring at roughly eye level directly in front of my home office, before it slowly made its way toward some of the taller buildings across the street. I wonder if there is a nesting pair right here on campus. Makes me feel at home !

owl on campus

While walking home this evening, I heard a sound that was almost like a dog barking, but not quite. Being a super duper owl enthusiast (as my left arm can attest), I started off in search of the caller. It was a spotted wood owl (Strix seloputo). A quick Google search revealed that I’m not the first person to spot this species on the NUS campus, but I may well have been the most excited ! Apparently, this species’ population was once thought to have dwindled to no more than 10 pairs, but sightings seem to be increasing. Very cool.

Welcome to the LSM 4265 blog !

Semester 2 of AY2014-2015 officially started on Monday, but for me, it really started today (the first day of teaching). I was stoked to meet our new class of students and to try out a new “name game”. They didn’t disappoint. Many of us had funny/interesting tidbits to share about our names, and I especially liked this quote: “My name is Hazel, but not like the nut.” Too cute.

The class period was all about getting to know one another (to the extent that’s possible when time is so short !) and covering some of the foundational aspects of urban ecology. How and why did this field of study develop (and why did it take so long before it did) ? Why is it so worthwhile ? What are the two main approaches in urban ecology (and which one has been dominant so far) ? What is urbanisation ? These are some of the questions we tackled this afternoon. This introductory material is undoubtedly drier than what’s to come, but hopefully I didn’t bore the students or confuse them.

Next week we’ll complete the introductory material and move onto meatier topics. We will also get going on the group projects, which I know the students will rock. We are stoked to give them the instructions and watch them run with them.

Each week, we will try and blog, but this space is just as much, if not more, for our students to use. I know they’ll have insightful questions and comments and hopefully most, if not all of them will share them here. I’m also hoping they all go out and read Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson.

This is Joanna, over and out.